Tuition subsidies help draw boys to Winnipeg ballet school

The Royal Winnipeg Ballet School has found a way to get young boys eager to sign up for classes.

Finding enough male dancers to fill the stage is always a challenge in the ballet world, but the Royal Winnipeg Ballet School has found a way to get young boys eager to sign up for classes.

Its secret is a financial incentives program that has seen enrolment for boys grow from about 25 to 250 each year.

When the incentives first were offered in 1995, boys entered the recreational program free of charge.

Now boys 15 and under pay around $80 for a 35-week session. The regular rate is over $400.

The professional division of the ballet has reaped the benefits, with a larger talent pool of young male dancers to choose from.

Fairwind Truscott, 16, started his training 10 years ago as one of the first boys ever to be admitted to the Royal Winnipeg Ballet School's recreational program free of charge.

"My first class I had to swallow my pride and walk into that class filled with girls .... I was kind of thinking, am I actually a wuss or am I trying to prove to everyone and myself that ballet isn't really what it seems?" he said.

Truscott stuck with it and has graduated to the RWB school's professional program. He's headed toward a career on stage.

Former RWB dancer and now associate director Jordan Morris says he wishes the program had been around when he was in school.

"When I started dancing, I was the only boy in my class for years .... It was difficult and lonely. That greater competition gives an extra dimension to the training," he says.

The school's director, Arlene Minkhorst, says she hopes the initiative will mean men will no longer be scarce in the world of ballet, but she also wants to erase a stigma.

"What I think is special is that it's an education process where boys learn that it is OK to be in dance," she says.

The Royal Winnipeg Ballet School's aggressive recruiting tactics have, until recently, been unique in Canada.

Other schools across the country mostly offer scholarships and special classes to entice young boys.

But the program won't be a rarity for long — a school in London, Ont., has started to copy the formula with great success.